A few days before the celebration of the Martin Luther King national holiday, new Detroit Lions CEO and president Matt Millen touched on the always touchy subject of race relations in sports.
In response to a question as to whether the Lions' new regime will consider minority candidates for coaching and front-office positions, Millen answered with an emphatic yes.
“I'll make decisions based on what you can do and what you can't do,” Millen said. “You have to be cognizant of (race), but I'm not going to hire some stiff because they're white or black. I'm going to hire the best qualified person.”
A former NFL linebacker, Millen said there are no racial differences in the locker room.
“The locker room is a great environment. It's where you find the best race relations,” said Millen, warming to the topic. “There is no color. Just people.”
Two days following his introductory news conference, Millen hired Kevin Warren, who is black, as the Lions' new senior vice president of business and general counsel. Millen also asked for permission to speak with black Tampa Bay Buccaneers assistant head coach Herman Edwards about becoming Detroit's head coach.
Millen's colorblind approach to rebuilding the Lions reinforces the longtime belief that sports remains arguably the most integrated segment in American society. Professional baseball, basketball and football each integrated their playing ranks at least a decade prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 states, in part, “no person in the United States shall, on the grounds of race, color or national origin, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”
Almost four decades later, brothers Adrian and Allen Lewis, who are juniors on the Texas Christian University football team, have charged former TCU head coach Dennis Franchione and assistant Mark Parks with racial discrimination during a three-year period.
According to the Houston Chronicle, in a complaint filed with the United States Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights, the Lewis brothers state in their complaint that after having met their father, who is black, and their mother, who is white, Parks would regularly ask them if they were “black or white today.”
“That was his thing. If he saw me wearing a cap on backward, he would say, `Oh, you must be black today,'” Allen Lewis said. “If I was dressed up nicely for something, he would say, `Oh, you're white today?' It just went on and on.”
Adrian Lewis said Franchione yelled at him in front of the entire team at halftime of a game this season after Adrian “made eye contact with a white woman” as he ran off the field.
Franchione, who became the coach at Alabama two weeks after the complaint was filed, and Parks, who joined Franchione at Alabama, both denied the charges.
TCU athletic director Eric Hyman said that while an independent investigation by the university did not reveal discrimination by Franchione and Parks, “the panel did find that inappropriate language occured.”
Hyman's response essentially vindicates the Lewis brothers while proving that Franchione and Parker were way out of line.
And that's a crying shame.
John Harris is The Blade's sports columnist. Email him at email@example.com.